Sunday, May 30, 2021

Music Beyond Boundaries: My Book Released

 'Music Beyond Boundaries' : I have published this book, which contains a series of essays, on Kindle Direct Publishing. 

These are selected and edited essays from this blog. I have been writing articles on my blog since 2007. On advise of friends, I am giving this in a book form now, so that the essays remain archived.

This book is free on Kinde Unlimited. If you want to buy it, for the next week you will get it for a special prize of Rs.149 before it reverts back to its original price of Rs.199.

To buy in India, this is the link :

To buy outside India, here is the .com link :

Cover design is by my daughter, Harini Suresh

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

SPB: A Musical History: Concluding Part (Part 19) - SPB's legacy

(You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17 & Part 18)

SPB career spanned more than five decades and for the majority of the time, he was the dominant singer in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. Now wonder he has left behind a lasting legacy.

The most important thing SPB taught many singers is that film singing is a different ball game compared to classical music. He was not a classically trained musician but was able to emote so well that his singing style suited the film idiom perfectly. He gave hope to thousands of singers, amateurs and professionals, who may not have been classically trained, that they too can sing if they put in the required effort and tried to build their own musical personality.

SPB's singing career is a lesson to any aspiring singer. SPB was unsure of his own singing in the early days, as we saw in this series. He started by imitating his senior peers, as Mukesh and Kishore had done in the past, but slowly developed his own voice. The uncertainty slowly gave way to confidence and SPB discovered his true voice after half a decade or more of struggle. This is the first lesson that any aspiring singer must learn from SPB's life. Work hard, work on your limitations, never give up and develop your vocal personality. 

SPB's major strength was his versatility. He was as effective for hero introduction songs as he was for songs picturized on comedians. He would almost rip apart his throat and shout, "Ilama idho idho" and would also morph his voice into a musical whisper for 'nilave vaa'. If 'valayosai' made lovers dance with joy, 'o papa lali' made them shed tears. A 'sahasam maa radham' was sung with the same felicity as "E divilo veligina parijathamo'. His constant need to push himself sent him outside of his comfort zone. He went to Kannada and became an enduring legend there. He went to Hindi and to Malayalam as well with mixed results. What mattered though was that SPB was always pushing himself to do better, to take on new challenges. That is why he went on to provide music to movies, he became a successful dubbing artist, an amazing TV host, a great stage performer and also an accomplished actor. It is very difficult to find someone with this range of activities. He tried to excel in whatever he did and he succeeded in doing so.

SPB's singing style made him a favorite amongst music directors. Music directors like Sathyam, Chakravarthy, Ramesh Naidu used him all the time in Telugu. In Tamil, MSV initially and then Raja used him a lot. In Kannada he became the favorite of all music directors. In one of his interviews, R.V.Udaykumar, the director of 'Kizhaku Vasal', says that for his song, 'pacha mala poovu', he insisted with Illayaraja that the song should only be sung by SPB. SPB was out of India on a tour and the director waited for a month before recording the song. Such was the faith of both director and music director on SPB's singing.

SPB's voice was his strength. It retained its youthfulness till the time he died. He never sounded old. In some songs during the 2000s, you can hear a bit of strain in some places but even there the voice sounded young. His voice was God's gift to him and when his senior and junior contemporaries were having problems with their voices, SPB's voice retained its tone. The youthfulness helped him in being the voice for multiple generations of artists. His voice, even when he was above 60, did not feel out of place when he sang for a young hero. Of course, what SPB achieved is not possible just by having a good voice, that is an important factor though, but also through great effort, learning and correcting oneself and improving constantly. SPB did all those things.

Further SPB understood the needs to film singing perfectly. He knew how to adapt himself when musical styles changed. From singing to MSV, changing to Raja's style and then adapting to Rahman's style were done with ease by SPB. He knew when to let go while singing, when to hold himself, when to give his own variation and when to sing as per music director's order. The understanding of emotional content inherent in a tune and expressing it precisely were what made his singing such a bit hit with the masses. (I do feel that in some cases SPB becomes a bit too emotional but those songs are less in number. I have heard others say this as well. When it came to Raja, there are no such songs at all)

SPB's versatility can be compared to that of his idol, Mohammad Rafi. SPB may not be happy with me making this statement but I have to say that looking at SPB's output objectively, his legacy is as good as his idol, if not better. Rafi was the constant voice of Hindi cinema for a couple of decades, singing a variety of songs. SPB too was the voice of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada industry for more than a couple of decades, singing a wide range of songs. SPB was able to transition multiple phases. From the MSV phase, he was moved to Raja phase and then to the Rahman phase. That is one reason that he has sung songs in more genres than Rafi, for Raja was constantly experimenting and he trusted SPB with his creations. (In case of Rafi, the more experimental RDB choose Kishore as the vehicle to deliver his musical ideas)

SPB was loved by people for his human nature and his generosity. Whenever he got a chance, he praised his co singers, Janaki, Susheela, Yesudas, Chitra and others. He praised music directors and was partial towards Raja, who he maintained had no equals. His love for M S Vishwanathan is well know. He had great love and respect for Veturi, whose lyrics he never forgot to highlight. He encouraged singers, song writers and music directors and treated them with great dignity in his programs. 

Though SPB wore multiple hats, his playback singing will be his enduring legacy. No one really knows how many songs he has sung. When a host quoted a large number, I think 40,000 or so, SPB replied in a TV show that he doesn't know how people arrived at the figure. He said the actual figure was lesser but then quality is not measure by quantity. SPB's legacy is that he gave us quality and he gave a lot of it. His voice became part of many people's lives: holding their hands when they needed support, smiling brightly when they were in joy and gently wiping off their tears when they went through bad times. His voice embedded itself in people's heart in such a way that they would sing a SPB song for every emotion they felt. His memory will stay with people and his memory will stay even after all those who have heard him sing live have vanished from this planet due to the inexorable march of time. SPB's voice will be heard for a long long time to come.

Let us close this series by listening to a SPB song in each of the major 5 languages that he sang in.

When SPB spoke Telugu, it sounded as if the language was dipped in honey. He says so in this song, 'thenekkana theeyanidi Telugu basha'. From the movie, 'Rajkumar'. Lyrics of Arudra. Music by Illayaraja.

SPB always maintained that people of Karnataka loved him more even than his own home state, Andhra Pradesh. It is fitting that he sang, 'entha soundarya nodu', a song which praises the beauty of Karnataka. From 'Mata Tappada Maga'. Music of Illayaraja.

SPB has not sung much in Malayalam, Yesudas being the dominant personality there. I love this Illayaraja duet, which SPB has sung with Chitra . 'tarapdam' from 'Anaswaram'.

From Hindi, 'sathiya tu ne kya kiya'. Formally credited to Anand Milind. (It is an Illayaraja melody) From the movie, 'Love'. Once again with Chitra.

We will end this series with this song, the pallavi of which SPB would be singing for us from the heavens. 'nalam vazha ennalum en vaazhthukal'. From 'Marupadiyum'. Vali's lyrics and Raja's music.

Atma Shanthi to the great singer who has given us so much to savor. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

SPB: A Musical History: Part 18 - SPB in 2000s and Paadutha Theeyaga

(You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16 & Part 17)

In the post 2000s, the number of memorable SPB songs came down. He did keep singing the hero intro song for Rajni, I personally am not a fan of 'balelakka' and other songs of the same nature. It was clear that the new gen, with its constantly changing singers and that unending quest for something 'different', was calling SPB only for select songs. There was no guarantee that these songs were good. Telugu and Kannada probably gave more opportunity to SPB compared to Tamil. The Hindi imports became popular in Telugu and Kannada as well, with Sonu Nigam become a big hit in Kannada. 

A couple of songs of SPB that I like from the 2000s are Raja songs. I will give them here and then we will talk about SPB and his program, 'Paadutha Theeyaga'.

Here is a nice Kannada song in SPB's voice, 'modhalane baari' from the movie, 'Nannavanu'

Raja in Telugu, in 2000s, had started using the new voices but when it came to a classic movie like 'Sreeramarajyam', he opted for SPB to deliver this lovely song along with Shreya Ghoshal. 'jagadanandakaraka'

In the same movie, Raja asks SPB to bring out the emotion in his voice, which SPB obliges. 'gali ningi neeru' 

If you haven't heard this song, do listen. For the tune, for the orchestration and the inherent emotion.

This song, tuned by James Vasanthan, for the movie 'Nanayam' was a song which got decent play time. SPB and Chitra. 'naan pogiren'.

A typical high energy SPB number under Raja. 'kathi katti' from 'Muthuramalingam'

Observe there is no loss of energy in SPB's voice, which still sounds youthful.

A philosophical 'vangum panathukkum' from 'Dhoni'

Almost blues type melody and SPB delivers with his usual style.

One of the last Raja-SPB collaboration for a movie, the soft melody, 'nee dhan en kanavu' from 'Tamilarasan'

Another favorite of mine from the 2000s. The wonderful title song from the movie, 'Godavari'. K.M.Radhakrishna's superbly inspired tune. No wonder they made made SPB sing it for no one else would have done justice to this lovely melody and to Veturi's outstanding lyrics.

Through all these songs we can observe some things clearly. SPB's voice has not lost its sheen. Sometimes, he is louder in higher reaches but other than that the voice retains its quality. He is able to convey the emotions as only he can. Yet, he was sidelined, not due to any deficiency in him but due to the changing times. It was sad that singers who were far inferior to him got more songs during that period but time changes things in strange ways. We have no choice but to accept the passage of time and the changing tastes.

(You may not have found your fav SPB song of 2000s here. I just put what I loved. You can always let me know of a SPB song in the 2000s that you liked)

Sometime during the second half of 90s SPB anchored on ETV a program was called 'Paadutha Theeyaga'. This program should also be included in SPB's contribution to music because what he spoke in this program was pure gold. Anecdotes from recordings, discussion on musical styles of various composers, introducing the instrument players who were always behind the scenes, explaining the greatness of lyrics and the lyricist, applauding the young talent and giving them tips on how to sing well and interacting with the guest in a very natural manner were part of the program. I have watched many singing competition programs (sometimes called reality shows) on various channels in various languages and I can say with certainty that none of them maintained their quality for so long. Some of them like one of the Malayalam shows with Sharath, M G Sreekumar and Usha Utup and later Chitra had some superb seasons and did the Indian singing idol initially. Later they slowed turned out to me more reality shows with the judges going over the top in their assessments and lot of crying involved in the program.

SPB ensured that the dignity of the program was intact. I think ETV probably gave him a free hand and that helped. His presence ensured that the show's dignity would not be compromised. Additionally, he spoke amazing Telugu in these programs. Many a times I watched this program only to hear the Telugu of SPB. He also ensured songs from all eras were sung and in later days ensured songs of all genres were sung as well. What mattered most though was SPB's recalling the past and the stories he told. 'Paadutha Theeyaga' is a great document about this amazing musical form called film music and ETV must archive it carefully. For no one has spoken so much about the Tamil, Telugu and Kannada film music as SPB has done. As I said earlier, he brought to light a lot of instrumentalists who were languishing in the shadows. SPB was involved in similar programs in Tamil but for various reasons they did not reach the heights of 'Paadutha Theeyaga'. He did a similar program in Kannada but I have not watched it to comment on it. (The other person on television who has been conducting his programs with great dignity for a long time has been Amitabh Bachchan). It will be great if some OTT platform buys 'Padutha Theeyaga' so that we get all the episodes in one place. 

Here in this episode, with another legend, K Vishwanath as the judge, SPB makes it clear towards the end when a contestant cries that this is not staged and such things will not happen when he is conducting the program

This is an excellent episode because both SPB and K Vishwanath share lot of nuggets about their works in this. Even if you skip the singing, watch K Vishwanath and SPB talk. As usual, their Telugu is also melodious.

Here is another episode where SPB is guiding very young folks. As usual he makes them sing some outstanding old melodies.

You can also hear him explaining the musical details of 'ninna leni andhamemo' song. Also observe around 35min mark. You can see that in an earlier episode he has got S.Rajeshwar Rao to a program and honored him. Also Koti, the guest, says what we feel about the program at around the 41min mark.

Here is another interesting episode wherein the 'Paadutha Theeyaga' alumni come together and SPB speaks about the progress of 'Paadutha Theeyaga'. Then he goes on to talk to the singers about their progress in life. Also speaks about Ramoji Rao's foresight about the program.

Go ahead and find other episodes on youtube. As I said, it will be great if someone archives every episode.

The next part will be the concluding part in which we will look at SPB's legacy.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

SPB: A Musical History - Part 17: Emergence of Rahman and the changed reality


(You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15 & Part 16)

In 1992, A R Rahman made a sensational debut with the movie, 'Roja'. Rahman's emergence changed the way things were done in the music field. The way the songs were recorded changed as did the quality of the recording. People were stunned by the new crystal clear sound they heard. Not just the recording but other facets of music making changed as well. Synthesizers were used heavily and the dependence of real instruments started decreasing. Loops and samples could be bought and integrated into music. Technology enable functions like auto tuning, which meant that a less than perfect pitch could be corrected. Each track could be recorded separately and the singers need not sing the whole song in one shot. They can record line by line. The last aspect would have a major impact on the career of great singers including SPB.

Rahman's emergence also led to the emergence of a new breed of singers. The dominant voices till then were SPB, Janaki, Chitra, Yesudas and Mano. Rahman brought in new voices like Hariharan, from Hindi, Unnikrishnan, Unni Menon, Udit Narayan, Shakul Hameed, Sadhana Sargam and many more. The new voices and new sounds captured the imagination of the audience so much that even Illayaraja had to shift to Hariharan and Unnikrishnan from SPB and Yesudas. The new recording techniques helped even not so great singers to get a chance in movie singing and their songs also became hits. In Illayaraja's case, the need was to deliver songs quickly to the director/producer and hence there was great need for singers like SPB, Yesudas, Janaki and Chitra who could record the song quickly. In Rahman's case, there was no hurry since he was taking up only selected projects. So new voice were experiment with in every movie and this trend caught up with other music directors of the day.

At the same time, the old guard was slowly losing its voice. Susheela's voice was almost gone by now. Janaki started sounding strained. Yesudas was still good but he was definitely past the peak. SPB's voice though, retained its tone except when in the upper reaches, where I felt he was a bit more louder than what he used to be earlier. None of the singers who came after Rahman's entry have turned into legends or had a career as long as the earlier but then the changed reality was to get a few hits and then become an in-demand stage singer or a reality show judge. SPB's career was definitely hurt by this change and he was not singing as many songs as he was singing earlier. It didn't happen all of a sudden, the transition slow but steady.

Illayaraja's dominance of Tamil film music continued till 1995 and SPB was still his preferred singer. In Rahman's case he did call upon SPB to sing in many of the movies but SPB would not dominate an album. He would have one song in the album. Other music directors like Deva used SPB but they too sought out the more current singers. Let us how SPB sang in these changed circumstances.

Rahman made SPB sing in his debut film and that song is still famous. 'kadhal rojave' was the song.

Based on Kapi ragam, this is perfectly in SPB's zone. SPB brought in the required sense of loss to the song and it is still so popular that you hear it sung in many reality shows. His tone for Rahman's song was slightly different. I think that may be because of his own contribution to the song as Rahman was known to give more freedom to singers.

'Ejaman' was released in 1993. SPB dominated this album along with Janaki. Music was by Illayaraja and the songs were big hits. 'nilave mugam kaatu' by SPB and Janaki is an instant classic.

The earlier 'kadhal rojave' and this song were probably recorded within a year of each other but observe the difference in the tone of SPB in both these songs. In Raja's song the tone is quite different from the Rahman song. It is not something to do with recording quality but the way SPB sings is different for both these music directors.

SPB featured in Rahman's second movie, 'Gentleman', in 'en veetu thotathil' song

This was another huge hit. In this too you can hear SPB's tone in tune with how he sang for Rahman. You can also hear the freedom he has got from Rahman.

From the same year, 'rooozhi koovum neram' from 'Maharasan', music by Raja

Again, observe the tone. You can actually differentiate a Raja and Rahman song just by SPB's tone.

One of the (only?) albums of Rahman which was dominated by SPB was 'Duet' (1994). I have a feeling that could have been because of K.Balachander, who was a big fan of SPB. All the songs in the movie were hits and the movie was a big hit as well. The song, 'en kadhale', was one of the songs many people shared in Social Media when they heard the news of SPB's death. (It was a video of SPB performing in a reality show)

Once again the SPB's tone for Rahman is clear. He adds his own bit to the emotional quotient of the song. Observe how his voice chokes at certain moments. He wants to make the emotion obvious, something he was probably not allowed under Raja's baton. 

Here is the clip that was shared a lot on social media.

'konji konji' from 'Veera' also happened in 1994. This was a Rajni movie and as usual SPB was his voice. Illayaraja the music director.

While newer heroes like Prabhu Deva, Aravind Swami, Ajit, Vijay had new voices for them, SPB continued to be the voice of Rajni. 

Here is SPB singing for Rajni in the movie, 'Badshah' (1995). Music by Deva. As usual, SPB sings the 'opening song'. 'naan autokaaran'

This is the typical high energy SPB. It is interesting if you hear the same song in Telugu. The tone in Telugu is a bit different

He again sings the opening song for Rajni in 'Muthu'. Music by Rahman (1995)

He got the National Award for 'thanga thamarai magale' for Minsara Kanavu (1997)

You can hear SPB having fun. He sings with a deliberate slur. The tone as I mentioned is his tone for Rahman songs. He sounds a tad different in this song.

While Rahman did use SPB in most of his movies, it was sparsely. SPB, with the exception of duet, usually got one song out of the four or five songs in the movie. In some cases he would have got two. The days were he sang all songs in an album were slowly vanishing. Yet, SPB was doing his best in the songs that were given to him. Not just by Raja or Rahman but also by the likes of Deva, Vidyasagar and others.

Here he is, pairing with Janaki, for one of Vidyasagar's biggest hits, 'malare mounama' from 'Karna' (1995).

SPB is in good form, getting the freedom to do his 'nakras' and he does full justice to the song.

'Kadhal Kottai' (1995) was a major hit and SPB sang the most famous song in the movie, 'nalam nalamaria aval'. Music by Deva

For Deva, SPB's tone was similar to how he sang for Raja.

For music director Baradwaj, SPB sang 'satham illadha thanimai', for the movie 'Amarkalam' (1999)

This became very famous because it was a breathless song. SPB's voice is more in Rahman song tone. (I personally feel he is a bit loud when he goes to the upper regions. That is why I am not a big fan of this song. )

SPB sang for young heroes of those days as well. In the earlier songs you have heard him sing for Ajit. In 'Endrenrum Kadhal' (1999) he sang for Vijay. Music by Manoj Bhatnagar. 'O thendrale'

Let me leave you with a few more hit songs of SPB from the 90s.

'sithagathi pookale' from Rajakumaran (1994). Music by Raja

'thoda thoda malardhadenna' from 'Indira' (1995)

'ennai kanavillaiye netrodu' from 'Kadhal Desam' (1996)

Will close with the superb, 'vana kuyile' from 'Priyanka' (1994)

With the coming of newer music directors like Yuvan Shankar Raja and Harris Jayaraj and the dominance of newer heroes like Vijay, Ajit, Dhanush and others ensured that SPB's demand went down. In the next part let us see how SPB did post 2000.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

SPB: A Musical History - Part 16: Dominance in Kannada


(You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14 & Part 15)

Attribution: Most of the non-Raja songs in this post are courtesy my friend A R Venkatesh, a great music lover of Kannada and Tamil film music. ( @arvenky on Twitter). My knowledge of SPB songs in Kannada is limited mainly to Raja songs and to some well known hits of Rajan Nagendra (which were also remade in Telugu). I have Venky to thank for this post. I have also included his comment on SPB's dominance of Kannada film music.

In Telugu film music, we saw that it was a struggle for SPB to be accepted after Gantasala's passing away. In case of Tamil film music, the emergence of Raja helped SPB a lot. In case of Kannada film music, SPB's entry was natural. Before SPB came into the picture, the most popular Kannada male singer was P.B.Srinivas. He was known for his melodious and soft voice. Unlike in Telugu and Tamil, where Gantasala and T M soundarrajan's voice were quite different in tone compared to SPB, PBS's tone quality and SPB's tone were not too different. SPB's voice was also soft and melodious. So it was easy for his voice to be accepted by Kannada listeners. (SPB's versatility, though, was much more than that of P.B.Srinivas)

Many Kannada film music directors understood the potential of SPB. Of course, Sathyam, who was SPB's good friend, was a music director in both Telugu and Kannada film worlds. So he definitely knew what SPB was capable of. P B Srinivas was still the main singer in Kannada in 1970s when SPB started making his mark. Later SPB slowly took over. The industry had only two singers mainly, when it came to male voices. Rajkumar, who sang for himself and SPB who sang for all other heroes. The domination continued throughout the 80s.

Initially the heroes of the 70s and 80s, other than Rajkumar, like Vishnuvardhan, Ambareesh, Anant Nag and Shankar Nag preferred SPB as their voice. The latter day heroes like Shivrajkumar and Upendra too chose SPB as their voice. This is what my friend Venky has to say about SPB's stint in the Kannada film industry:

"SPB started dominating Kannada music scene from 70s. He sang many albums for Rajan Nagendra in 70s.His dominance continued for nearly 2+ decades. In 1980s he was unstoppabe with Hamsalekha emerging in a big way and both teamed to give many memorable run away hits like, Sangliyana (Shankar Nag), Premaloka, Anjagandhu, Yuddha Kanda, Yuga Purusha, Ramachari (to name few of Ravichandran's run away hits for music itself) Ranaranga (Shivarajkumar), Indrajith, Nammoora Hameera (Ambareesh), Muthina Haara and almost all movies of Vishnu who was very particular on Balu singing for him, S Narayan's Chaitrada Premanjali, K V Raju's Belli Kaalungura, Kumar Bangarappa's Navatare, Ksheera Sagara, S V Rajendra Singh Babu's Bannada Gejje (all these were musical hits)"

According to Wiki this is the first song of SPB in Kannada. From the film 'Nakkare Ade Swarga'. This is from 1967. Music by M.Ranga Rao.

He voice sounds like a combination of Gantasala and P.B.Srinivas. You cannot hear the SPB you know. This is consistent with how he sang in Telugu during that time. (This was probably the second movie song of his career. I am not sure though)

From the movie, 'Namma Samsara', the song, 'namma samsara ananda sagara'. SPB sings along with P.B.Srinivas and P Susheela. Music by M.Ranga Rao

PBS is still the dominant singer in this song. SPB has a secondary role to play in this song. His voice is still not 'THE' SPB voice.

'Nagarahavu', starring Vishnuvardhan. It was released in 1972. Music by Vijaya Bhaskar.

In this you can hear the SPB of the 70s. Now his voice has the originality and is on the way to maturity. He puts in e effort to sound masculine. 

This is from the 1975 movie, 'Shubamangala', 'snehada kadalalli'. Music by Vijaybhaskar

In this song I still hear the influence of P.B.Srinivas. The style is a mix of PBS and SPB. 

By 1977, SPB had become SPB, shedding any external influence. Here he is with 'kanasalu neene manasalu neene' from 'Bayaludari'. Music was Rajan Nagendra. The Telugu version of this song, which was also sung by SPB, was a major hit as well.

You hear a far more confident SPB here. As I said, this is the SPB we know. The voice quality and his style have formed fully. His voice is melodious and he knows what the song needs and delivers accordingly.

As Venky had mentioned, SPB became the voice of Vishnuvardhan. Here he is singing for Vishnuvardhan for the movie, 'Hombisilu' (1978). Music by Rajen Nagendra

By this time SPB was a confident singer, with his own unique mannerism and singing style in Kannada. That is reflected in this song.

From the year, 1979, another Rajan Nagendra hit. This time for Anant Nag. 'akasadintha' from 'Chandanadha Gombe'

Th SPB's mannerisms are present for everyone to hear. 

In 1981, SPB was to sing one of the biggest hit of his Kannada film music career. The song which is almost like a national anthem in Karnataka. 'jotheyali' from the movie 'Geetha', starring Shankar Nag. Music by Illayaraja.

The tune, the outstanding orchestration and the singing of SPB and Janaki took this song to an All Time Great level. Observe the casualness that SPB gets into the tune, which gives the song its character. Janaki, as usual, is outstanding, matching SPB at every step. (Or maybe it should be vice versa?)

1983 got him another outstanding melody from Illayaraja, which happens to a favorite of many even today. 'naguva nayana' from 'Pallavi Anupallavi'

What a song. Touches you deeply with its melody. The starting humming, the bass, the orchestration and a tune to die for. Though it was for a debut movie of an unknown director, Illayaraja gave some amazing melodies for this movie. The director was Maniratnam. SPB and Janaki are their usual self.

Let me put up another Illayaraja song here, which SPB sang for Anant Nag, for the movie, 'Janma Janmada Anubanda'. A 1980 movie.

A Madhyamavathi based melody, which is delivered perfectly by that amazing pair of SPB and Janaki.

SPB became the voice of Ambareesh as well. Here he is singing for him in the movie, 'Yelu Suthina Kote'. Music is by the talented L.Vaidyanathan.

A Mohanam based melody which sounds even more melodious in the voice of SPB.

Ravichandran became a sensation with the movie, 'Premaloka' which featured Juhi Chawla.  It was Juhi Chawla's first commercial success. Music was by Hamsalekha. The film was a great hit as were the songs.

SPB is his usual self here. He does the mimicry that he is so famous for, singing for various characters. SPB then became the voice of Ravichandran as well.

SPB sang for Raghavendra Rajkumar on his debut. The big hit, 'innu guarantee' from 'Nanjundi Kalyana'. The movie starred the famous Malashri, who was a top heroine those days. A 1989 movie, which was a blockbuster hit.

This is the sort of song SPB enjoys a lot. Music of Upendra Kuamar, this fun song, based on Hamsadhwani, is the sort of song which is made for SPB. You can hear SPB enjoying himself with all the 'nakras'. 

SPB was also the voice of Shivrajkumar. From the super hit movie, 'Namoora Mandhara Hoove', the song 'halli lavaniyalli lali'. Music by Illayaraja

This was a 1996 film. You can hear SPB's voice still in fine fettle even after almost three decades of singing. He is good from in this song. All the songs of the movie were raging hits.

Kannada film world also made him sing Hindustani music. An act which fetched him a National Award. The movie was 'Gaana Yogi Panchakshara Gawai'.   'ummad gummad' from the movie. 1999 release.

SPB tries to make his voice a bit more 'bass'y in this song. This is a very filmi classical song. Can't really compare it with the standard khayals sung by the masters. 

I will close this post with a 2010 song. 'mudhalane baari' from 'Nannavanu'. Music by Illayaraja.

It was more than 50 years since his debut when he sang this song. He still retained the freshness in his voice. 

SPB was clear that of all the fans across languages Kannada fans loved him the most. He made that statement in a few TV programs. He had become one of the icons for Kannada film fans. 

Here he is talking about Kannada fans love for him on a Telugu TV channel.

Here is SPB talking about his Kannada fans and the love he gets from Kannada fans. In Kannada.

Here is one more TV program where SPB unambiguously says that the love he receives from his Kannada fans is much more than what he receives from his Tamil and Telugu fans

I am sure that I have not done full justice to SPB's oeuvre in Kannada and that is due to my lack of knowledge about his Kannada songs. I hope someone who has followed him closely in Kannada will write about his songs in more detail.

Next week we will see how the music landscape changed in the 1990s and how it impacted SPB.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

SPB: A Musical History - Part 15: SPB's domination down South for a decade and half

 (You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13 & Part 14)

Starting the beginning of 80s and all the way to the mid 90s, SPB dominated the musical landscape of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. In case of Malayalam, Yesudas was the immovable legend and as with Hindi, SPB's Malayalam diction wasn't as good as his Tamil or Kannada diction.

Even with the three languages, SPB's domination was complete in case of the Telugu film industry. In case of Tamil, though SPB sang the most songs by a male singer during those years, the man dominating Tamil film music was Illayaraja. We had lots of famous films in which SPB's voice did not feature. Others like Yesudas, Malaysia Vasudevan, Jayachandran and later Mano, also featured in Illayaraja's songs prominently. In case of Kannada, Dr.Rajkumar sang for himself. For everyone else, SPB was the preferred voice. 

I will write separate post about SPB's songs in Kannada films. Starting from 1980 till about mid 90s, the best songs that SPB got in Tamil and Telugu were under the baton of Illayaraja. We have seen how Illayaraja exploited the complete range of SPB's voice in the last few posts. In this post we will look at how SPB sang for other music directors. Though the most memorable of SPB's songs of this period are the Raja tuned songs, he does have some very good songs with other music directors as well.

MSV's magic started to wane slowly in the 80s. Even in that period he kept giving some nice melodies for K Baachander. Here is the famous song from 'Thillu Mullu', 'raagangal padinaaru'. The usual combination of MSV, Kannadasan and K Balachander

A simple and a charming song, which is well suited for SPB's voice. 

Another MSV song from the period (1982) which is popular even today, is the Sindhu Bhairavi based, 'unakkenna mele nindrai' from 'Simla Special'

This required SPB at his emotional best and he did not let down MSV. The range of emotions and the change in pace are something which any singer would have loved in a song. MSV had given SPB some wonderful songs of this kind. 

Shankar Ganesh in Tamil and Chakravarthy in Telugu gave a lot of songs to SPB. Both of them were prolific composers and both of them gave huge number of eminently forgettable melodies. The problem with Shankar Ganesh was that unlike MSV before them or Raja after them, they did not have a distinct style. Even a music director who was not too prolific, like V Kumar had his own distinct style.

Here is one song of Shankar Ganesh which was a hit. Here they try to sound somewhat like Illayaraja.

'Oru Kadhal Devadhai' from 'Idhaya Thamarai'

The song depends so much on the voices of SPB and Chitra. The song needs the softness of touch of SPB's voice. That caressing voice is used effectively in this song. The value add that SPB does to this song is clear for us to hear. 

Hamsalekha was a hit music director in Kannada film world. For the movie, 'Kodi Parakkudhu', Barathiraja moved away from his close friend and that movie had music by Hamsalekha. 'sellai kattum pennukoru vasamundu' was a hit song

Once again the SPB and Chitra combination. This is a wonderful tune. The orchestration shows the influence of Illaiyaraja. SPB and Chitra are melodious as always and the song gains a lot from these two superb singers

After collaborating with him was some amazing films like 'Sindhu Bhairavi', 'Rudraveena', 'Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal', Punnagai Mannan' and other films, K Balachander moved away from Illayaraja due to some reasons. He then chose Maragathamani (aka as Keeravani in Telugu) to compose for his film 'Azhagan'. The song 'sangeetha swarangal' was a major hit.

The tune is simple and nice. I think the situation in the film, of the hero and heroine talking on the phone throughout the night, was also responsible for the hit status of this song. The Doordarshan music is a wonderful touch. The song per se does not challenge SPB's vocal chords.

Bharathiraja used Devendran as the music director for his movie, 'Vedham Pudidhu'. The biggest hit from this movie, the Shanmukhapriya based 'kannukul noor nilava', is mistaken by many to be Illayaraja song.

SPB and Chitra deliver with their perfection. 

The music director who started making an impact in Tamil film music towards end of 80s was Deva. Initially he was seen as a poor man's Raja and later as a poor man's Rahman. To his credit, he does have quite a few hits in that era and for him SPB was the main singer most of the time.

'neela kuyile neela kuyile' from 'Vaigasi Porandachu'

This was the movie which gave Deva his break. SPB, I feel, was a bit too energetic in this song, sounding a bit harsh sometimes. 

Coming to Telugu film songs, SPB was the dominant force there throughout the 80s and atleast till the mid 90s. Unfortunately, the music scene in Telugu films was not anywhere close to that of Tamil films, except those films where Illayaraja scored the music. Music directors like Chakravarthy, J V Raghavulu, K V Mahadevan, Raj Koti could not really come up with everlasting melodies. In some cases, like in 'Megha Sandesham' where the songs were good, SPB's participation wasn't warranted. So most of the best songs of SPB in Telugu films from 1980 to 1995 were mostly those composed by Illayaraja. Unlike Tamil, in Telugu Illayaraja did not have much of choice when it came to the male singer. It was predominantly SPB who was called to sing the songs. 

With Keervani coming in, the scene changed a bit and SPB did get some good songs from him. This song from 'Kshana Kshanam' is a nice one. 'jamu raatiri'. Superb words by Sirivennela.

The song's setting calls for a voice like that of SPB's. It is a lullaby and SPB as usual brings that softness of touch and his velvet voice does its magic. 

SPB continued being the voice of Chiranjeevi. Here he is with 'bangaru kodi pitta' from 'Gharana Mogudu'. This was a major hit song.

SPB gets to do all the nakhras in this song and it suits the song well.

SPB was in such demand in Telugu that he was not affected when the popular hero Krishna had a fight with him and Krishna declared that SPB will not sing any of his songs. (It was an unfortunate fight because Krishna was one of the heroes who promoted SPB when all heroes wanted Gantasala to sing for them). Anyway, this fight did not make a dent in SPB's reputation and he was the No.1 singer in Telugu films. Later Krishna and SPB patched up and SPB sang for Krishna later. 

Whoever be the music director in Telugu, their main choice for the male lead singer was always SPB. SPB had sung for various music directors like Chakravarthy, Rajan Nagendra, Ramesh Naidu, Sathyam, J V Raghavulu, Raj Koti, K V Mahadevan, Keeravani and others. This is apart from Illayaraja. All the music directors loved SPB's voice and he was their favorite. Similarly in Tamil, other than Raja, be it Deva, Maragathamani, Hamsalekha, Shankar Ganesh or others, SPB was their preferred singer. He dominated these two industries for around 15 yrs.

Let me close this post with a song SPB composed and sang. A song which people associate very closely with SPB. 'vannam konda vennilave' from 'Sigaram'.

After SPB died, this song has become even more closer to people's heart in Tamilnadu. If you don't believe me, check the youtube comments.

In the next post, let us talk about SPB in Kannada film music.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

SPB: A Musical History - Part 14: SPB, Raja and Tamil Film Music of 80s - Part 3

(You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11Part 12 & Part 13)

Versatility - Part 2

In the last post, we looked at some songs which showcase the versatility of SPB in singing modern songs, high energy songs, emotional climax songs and songs that needs a softness of touch. That was quite a range but that was not all. In this post we will look at some more aspects of SPB's singing with the songs he sang for Raja in the 1980s are examples.

A genre of songs which SPB was famous even before he started singing for Raja was the comic songs genre. We had in one of the initial posts observed how SPB would mimic the voice of a comedian like Allu Ramalingiah. Raja used SPB for many comic songs. Let us look at a few of them here.

'randi randi randi' from 'Rudraveena'

The whole song is structured as a comic song and here SPB is not singing for the hero. He is singing for the comic actor. The song is not easy to sing for in many places it is structured as prose and yet, there is a underlying melody. SPB's ability to morph his voice comes to the fore here. The 'voice acting' part of his personality is used effectively here.

Raja transforms this song completely in Tamil. Instead of the almost conversational tune, he uses a carnatic base for this comic song. Balachander, the director, also changes the situation, this time locating the situation in a kitchen.

Here SPB's singing is spot on bringing out the humor effortlessly with a small laugh here and pause there. The whole song has to be sung such that the humor comes out and at the same time the essence of the ragas is conveyed unambiguously. Be it Kalyani or Vasantha, SPB brings out the raga characteristics along with the humor.

'botany patamundi' from 'Shiva' (Telugu)

This was a great hits when it was released. SPB sounds so much like a casual college student in this song and as usual he does his mimicry to great effort. (I had totally forgotten how awesome Amala looked in this movie !!)

Let us look at one more fun song. This is not really a funny song in that sense but requires the stylishness of SPB's singing for it to succeed.

'ennamma kannu' from 'Mr. Bharath'.

While Raja probably used the voice of Malaysia and his own voice for a majority of folk songs, he did use SPB many a times to sing songs which had the folk lilt. 

'vasalile poosani poo vachiputta' from 'Shenbagame Shenbagame'

'thana vandha sandhaname' from 'Oora Vittu Ooru Vandhu'

'kalaivaniyo raniyo' from 'Villupattukaran'

SPB sings these folk music inspired songs wonderfully. These are not exactly folk songs because Raja goes beyond folk songs but at core, the soul of the song is folk based. The rhythm and the melody have the folk lilt. Though SPB's voice is quite polished, it still doesn't distract from the folk song. Typically the voices singing the folk songs are more raw but because these are sung in films, the polish in the song is fine. (Purely from a voice perspective the voice of Raja and Malaysia Vasudevan suits the folk songs much better but SPB compensates for it by his song delivery)

SPB was terrific when it involved joyous love songs. There are so many examples where the joy overflows. Let us look at some of them now.

'valaiyosai' from 'Sathya'

This song is such a joyous one. The song expresses the joy of young lovers. The tune and orchestration are amazing. SPB sings in a joyous fashion, especially those minor effects in his voice, which enhances the song. It is not a song which gives the singer scope to introduce anything of his or her own but SPB does stamp his own style in the song.

'kadhal kavidhaigal' from 'Gopura Vasalile'

Like 'valaiyosai' this is an extremely joyous song. As usual SPB conveys the joy brilliantly.

One more example

'then poove poove va' from 'Anbulla Rajnikanth'

What a wonderful song this is.

SPB was also called it to deliver lot of songs which involved chorus as well. Here is an amazingly joyous song which involves a chorus.

'tholin mele baram illai' from 'Ninaivellam Nithya'

The energy and joy required for the song needs someone like SPB. 

One more such high energy song involving chorus.

'jagada jagada' from 'Geetanjali' (Telugu)

The song is tough not just because of the tune but also because of the poetry. The Telugu here is not easy to sing but SPB's control over Telugu make him sing this easily. 

Another high energy, rhythm oriented song, this time involving a chorus and puli aatam

'annatha aadurar othiko othiko' from 'Aboorva Sagodharargal'

Observe the voice in the song and the songs we played previously and you can see that SPB changes his voice a bit for this song. 

'yelela kuyile' from 'Pandi Nattu Thangam'

Not only joyous songs, SPB was also a master in singing sad love songs. This is another genre in which he has multiple songs. We will listen to a couple of them.

'poovuku poovale manjam ondru' from 'Anand'

SPB's voice is filled with sadness in this song. His voice almost breaks down in the charanam conveying the heartbreak of the protagonist. His voice modulation is perfect for this song.

Another evergreen love song, 'unna nenachen paatu padichen' from 'Aboorva Sagodharargal'

The sadness is not in your face but subtle. SPB's once again delivers the emotion superbly

From sad songs, let us move to the other end, an erotic song.

'nethri rathiri yamma' from 'Sakalakala Vallavan'

'While SPB does a great job, this particular song belongs to S.Janaki

Another excellent erotic song

'meendum meendum va' from 'Vikram'

Janaki was the master when it came to singing these songs and even in this song, Janaki dominates though SPB does give it the erotic touch with his singing

'lipu kissu lip ragam' from 'Chakravyuham' (Telugu)

SPB also song lot of inspirational songs and angry songs. His voice suited this segment well because of the energy he was able to impart to the songs.

'sahasam na padham' from 'Maharishi' (Telugu)

A song that requires SPB to maintain high energy throughout which he does well. 

'nadapadhu nadakkattum' from 'Brahma'

This combines philosophy with drinking !! This calls for SPB to use his voice acting skills. You can see clearly how SPB changes his voice in this song

I have missed many many songs but I hope I have been able to convince you of SPB's versatility in the 80s. 

In next part, let us look at how things changed in the 90s.

Friday, November 27, 2020

SPB: A Musical History - Part 13: SPB, Raja and Tamil Film Music of 80s - Part 2


(You can read the earlier parts here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 Part 10Part 11 & Part 12)

The versatility 1

As I stated in the earlier, SPB of the 80s was a well formed,confident singer with a unique style of his own. His association with Raja in the 80s helped him in two ways: One, he got to sing a lot of popular numbers, which ensured he took his rightful place in the hearts of the people. Two, Raja gave him songs which pushed him hard and ensured that SPB was able to showcase his versatility to the world. In this article we will talk about how Raja used SPB versatile singing to give us some everlasting numbers.

Before I begin the analysis, let me also state that though SPB was the foremost singer in Tamil, he did dominate the Tamil film music landscape the way he did in Telugu and Kannada. Raja loosely followed this pattern of giving Yesudas songs which had a lot of Carnatic music flavor, Malaysia Vasudevan got a lot of songs with folk music flavor, Jeyachandran sang many soft melodies. SPB got the major share but the others, including Mano in later days, have a substantial body of work with Raja. Again, whatever categorization I have done is a loose one. We have Yesudas singing 'kuthu songs', Malaysia Vasudevan singing wonderful melodies and so on. Overall, Raja did depend on SPB for versatility and in case of Telugu and Kannada he almost always used SPB as the male voice.

Now to analyze some songs from the 80s which showcased SPB's versatility. In an earlier article I had mentioned how Raja had used SPB for songs which were providing a new sound in Tamil Film Music then. He needed the stylishness and the modernity inherent in SPB's singing for these songs to reach the masses. 

Let us take the duet, 'yaar thoorigai thanda oviyam' from 'Paaru Paaru Pattanam Paru'. This sound was new to Tamil films in those times (it is still so fresh). That freshness, modernity are also due to SPB's singing. The melodious voice of SPB and his style are an asset to this song. Uma Ramanan also does a good job in this song.

For another such song, let us take the song 'perai sollva' from 'Guru' (Tamil).

Another song whose sound was new to TFM. Kamal, who the style king or style mannan, needed this stylish singing by SPB. Matching him step for step is Janaki. The song, which tough to sing, must be sung in a casual way so as to give a feeling that the hero and heroine are effortlessly singing it. Both SPB and Janaki achieve that with ease.

The second style of songs are what I call high energy songs, with a western base. While MSV did try some songs in the genre, it was Raja who took it to great heights and in most case, these songs went to SPB (Malaysia Vasudevan too got some of these songs). In this case you needed a voice which more suited to film music than classical music, a voice which was neutral. A voice which could fit itself into any genre. SPB had such a voice and so he was called upon to sing these songs.

From the film, 'Johny', 'senorita I love you'

The song's opening, which seems to be inspired by the 'Immigrant Song' of LedZeplin, is highly energetic and the tune and orchestration sustain the high energy throughout. SPB ensures that the energy created by the drumming and the orchestration is never let down. It is not easy to sing a song with such high energy throughout but SPB does it with ease.

From the film 'Vikram', 'vanitamani'

Another song which combines high energy, stylishness, a new sound and a western beat. Right from the initial recitation started by Kamal, we know this is going to be a funky song. It keeps up the promise. SPB and Janaki bring in the required energy and style.

Let us now go to the other end of the spectrum: Carnatic classical music. As I said earlier, Raja gave most songs which had heavy Carnatic music touch to Yesudas. There were exceptions though and one such glorious exception was the movie 'Kadhal Oviyam'. Except for a song sung by Deepan Chakravarthy, the whole movie was dominated by SPB.

'poovil vandu koodum' for 'Kadhal Oviyam'

SPB shows that he can sing such songs with ease. SPB, as we saw had sung in movies like 'Shankarabaranam' earlier and so singing classical music songs were not a difficult proposition for him. Such songs only confirmed SPB's versatility. In fact the songs of this movie as itself showcase SPB's amazing versatility.

'vanin devi varuga' from 'Oruvar Vazhum Aalayam'

This song, based on Amritavarshini mostly, requires both classical music skills and high energy singing. SPB and Janaki deliver both. The changing rhythm pattern in the charanam is another challenge to overcome in this song. 

'ilancholai poothadho' from 'Unakaga Vazhgiren'

Not much to say here which I haven't said earlier. Enjoy the song. 

Here is 'sangeetha jadhi mullai' from the 'Kadhal Oviyam' again. Raja makes SPB push hard at his own boundaries thereby giving him an amazing song. SPB has to dig deep into himself to ensure that he did justice to this song. It is a tough climax song and SPB had to be at his best to deliver quality.

'sangeetha jadhi mullai'

Talking of dramatic songs, SPB love singing them, especially if they were climax songs like 'nada vinodamu' or 'dorakuna ituvanti seva'. Here is another dramatic song wherein SPB is called to do his voice acting. 

'mani osai kettu ezhndhu' from 'Payanangal Mudivadhillai'

SPB does that coughing part without making it sound too contrived or gimmicky. SPB had a talent for doing this.

Here is one more sad and dramatic song from the Telugu film 'Prema', 'priyathama na hrudayama'. I have not seen the movie but I guess this song happens close to the climax in the movie.

This is another song which can be delivered by a top notch singer like SPB. The tone of the song is a sad one and in the charanams the song demands a lot from the singer in terms of his range. The singer has to showcase the complete range of his voice without compromising the tone of the song. The sadness must be intact even when the higher registers are reached. Observe how SPB keeps enhances the sadness at 'ee jenma lona edabatu ledhu'. (Madhvapeddi Suresh, a music director himself, said in a show that when he heard this song first time he had tears in his eyes)

SPB's ability to deliver that sad song without going overboard was amazing. It was sadness that was design to touch your heart and wring it slowly. It was not a sadness that made you cry loud. One such song was 'o papa lali' from 'Geetanjali'. A song near the climax, the effect of this is everlasting.

SPB's tone and the softness of touch that he imparts ensure that the song does not become a maudlin one. It has enough sadness to penetrate your heart. The song is tuned keeping with the tone of the movie, which is like a gentle breeze. A song that is liked by millions and has the capacity to still move your heart even after nearly four decades.

Raja exploited this softness of touch of SPB to the maximum. 

From the movie, 'Nenjathai Killadhe', the eternal favorite, 'paruvame'.

An iconic song for various reasons, like the jogging sound and Raja playing the harmonium in the interlude, it gains so much from the voices of SPB and Janaki. Though the laugh of SPB in the prelude sounds a bit forced, the way he sings the song is consistent with the cinematography. Raja asks SPB and Janaki in a soft tone and both of them oblige. This ensures that the mood of the song is that of early morning, of mists and dew on leaves. Raja wants to showcase the tenderness of the world during dawn and he has these two legends who help him achieve the required tenderness. 

Another such song which takes advantage of SPB's softness of touch is 'kalai nera poonkuyil' from 'Amman Koyil Kizhakkale'

Based on Abhogi ragam, which is generally associated with early morning hours, this song is also an amazingly tender song. SPB's voice suits the song perfectly, bringing out the tenderness of the song. 

We will end this post with another sad song sung impeccably by SPB.

'koondukulla enna vechchi' from 'Chinna Gounder'

We saw only one part of SPB's versatility in this part. In the next part we look at SPB's ability to sing folk songs, kuthu songs, romantic songs and so on.

Music Beyond Boundaries: My Book Released

 'Music Beyond Boundaries' : I have published this book, which contains a series of essays, on Kindle Direct Publishing.  These are ...